Woodward and Bernstein took down Nixon, Upton Sinclair blew the lid off the meatpacking industry, and Geraldo Rivera exposed the mystery of Al Capone's secret vault. But all these feats of journalistic courage pale beside that of Marie Torre. I mean, it's | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Woodward and Bernstein took down Nixon, Upton Sinclair blew the lid off the meatpacking industry, and Geraldo Rivera exposed the mystery of Al Capone's secret vault. But all these feats of journalistic courage pale beside that of Marie Torre. I mean, it's

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Somewhere deep within the labyrinth of the Pittsburgh International Airport (actually, right above the Tie Rack and the Clinique shop), Rev. Jack Fitzgerald holds Catholic Mass in his very own travelers' chapel six days a week. His office (with runway views) doubles as a confessional, and the 70-seat room of worship includes a prayer corner for Muslims.

How did you end up working here?
When they were designing the new terminal way back when, there had been plans for a chapel, but due to some legal complications there wasn't space. But when Flight 427 went down nine years ago, the idea was re-floated, and here we are.

Were you working at another church at the time?
I was an administrator [at a church] in Lawrence County. I'm a pilot of 23 years now, and I was a chaplain with the Air National Guard. So when the note came through the diocese that they were considering putting in a chapel, I thought, "Who better?"

What's a normal day here like?
What do you call a normal day when the public can walk in? You have an incredible cross-section of the American population, though. You have to step back and say, "Where is the crossroads of the modern American society?" It's the airports. Back in the ancient days the apostles went to the marketplace, because that's where the people gathered. And now, one of the modern marketplaces is the airport.

Especially this airport.
Yeah. When you walk down the concourses, it's like walking down the main street of a city or a town. That's where the business is, and that's where the people find you. All you have to do is walk down there, and you find people that want to talk to you.

So you actually walk around and do outreach in the airport?
Oh yeah. Obviously I've been here awhile and I know a lot of people, and we'll have our regular conversations, but then sometimes people will just have other things they want to talk about.

So do you find that you're acting more as a psychologist or a counselor than a chaplain?
Sometimes, but with a spiritual dimension to it. Here's an example: I've been talking to one of the flight crew -- he's been talking about getting married and we've been doing some guidance for him. His fiancée has got some issues, and we're trying to work that out.

Do you find that most people who come in here aren't Catholic?
I never check IDs. Problems don't respect or recognize denominations. Issues are issues. Sometimes you have people who have an interesting question about faith, and we'll talk about that, and I'm finding that people are taking spiritual questions more seriously, especially since September 11.

What was it like around here on September 11?
Actually, I wasn't here. I was in Alabama doing an education course with the Air Force. But it was incredibly tense here, because it caught everyone by surprise, you know? You have to remember, the flight crews had to get out there and fly the planes. I think it's easy to forget that those people stepped right up and got to work right after that. They were the people, I think, who never really got the recognition they deserved.

I would imagine that after the layoffs started, you had a lot more employees coming in.
Sure. It's taken its toll emotionally. I think once the uncertainty [of the layoffs] started, it compounded and aggravated problems that were already there, and created new ones. A lot of people said, "Well, should we take the kids out of school? Should we sell the house? Where am I going to work?" And these are the people who made the airline industry what it is. They're in a situation now where their best efforts don't really seem to matter. It's frightening, this feeling of, "No matter how hard I work, or how good I do the job, the outcome could be a layoff." You can just see it in their faces.

Are you afraid of being laid off yourself?
There's always a chance.

But you seem to be so important to the community here.
Yes, well. That's what I'm told.

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